Tony Annese has been the head coach of the football team at Ferris since Dec. 22, 2011. In that time frame, he has transformed Ferris into a Division II powerhouse and has relied on some very talented players.
Here are the names of the players who were the best to play at Ferris under Annese in alphabetical order. There are certainly a few others that have an argument to be on this list, but these players truly represented the best that Ferris had to offer on the football field.
Jayru Campbell may be a surprising name on this list, as he has yet to complete his first full season of games under Annese, but what he has done in this one season is incredible. In 13 games, Campbell has been one of the best players in Division II football, even being named a finalist for the coveted Harlon Hill Trophy. He has totaled over 3,800 total yards and 45 total touchdowns en route to leading the Bulldogs to a semifinal appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Playoffs.
In his one season leading the Bulldogs, he has won six Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Offensive Player of the Week awards, was named First Team All-America quarterback by the American Football Coaching Association and First Team All-GLIAC at quarterback. He has led the Bulldogs to an undefeated season thus far by being as versatile as any other player in the nation, as evidenced by him leading all quarterbacks in Division II with 1,235 rushing yards.
Campbell has one more season after this one and it is very likely he goes down as the second best player in Ferris history, behind Jason Vander Laan.
Jake Lampman’s stats don’t tell the full story of how successful he was in his time at Ferris. It’s not that the stats are bad. In 48 career games, Lampman caught 153 passes for 2,320 yards and 26 touchdown catches. He also carried the ball 47 times for 332 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was the go-to guy for Jason Vander Laan during their time playing for the Bulldogs and was consistently one of the best receivers in the nation.
The problem for Lampman was that the teams he played on were primarily run-first teams, which significantly limited his production. With that being said, Lampman still has a few accomplishments that he can look back on from his career at Ferris. He was a two-time All-GLIAC performer and, on top of everything, he was one of the best players on a team that went undefeated in two consecutive regular seasons. Lampman will go down as one of the best receivers in Ferris history.
Zach Sieler is not only one of the best players under Annese, but in Ferris football history. Sieler became the first Ferris player to ever be drafted in the NFL; he went to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2018 draft as the 238th pick. The craziest part about this is the fact that Sieler didn’t even come to Ferris on scholarship. He walked onto the team in 2013 and didn’t take the field until 2015.
However, Sieler turned into a standout defensive lineman for the Bulldogs, twice receiving the GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year award. In his career at Ferris, Sieler had 178 total tackles, 33 sacks and an incredible 48 tackles for loss. He holds the school records for tackles for loss and sacks in a season with 29.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in his spectacular 2016 season. Those 19.5 sacks actually lead all of Division II and propelled him to being named to the All-GLIAC and All-American teams for the first time. He was also named to those teams the following year, as well.
When it was all said and done, Sieler finished his career at Ferris as one of the most dominant players in the history of the program. And as the first player from the school to ever be drafted into the NFL, he will always have his own special place in Ferris State history.
Tavierre Thomas is another player from the Annese Era that currently finds himself on an NFL roster as a reserve cornerback for the Cleveland Browns. Thomas was a lockdown defender in his time with the Bulldogs, and he has a GLIAC Defensive Back of the Year award he received as a senior to prove it.
His stats in 2017 that earned him the award were as followed: 60 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended. In 45 career games, Thomas racked up 175 total tackles to go along with 14 career interceptions and 35 passes defended.
In both his junior and senior seasons, he earned a spot on the Division II All-American team, as well as on the All-GLIAC team.
Jason Vander Laan
While Campbell has a chance to win the Harlon Hill Trophy, that would pale in comparison to the two Harlon Hill trophies possessed by Jason Vander Laan, the only two ever won by a member of Ferris. Vander Laan is not only the greatest Ferris player on this list, but he is also one of the best players in college football history.
A man who holds many records and has won countless awards, the biggest record Vander Laan holds in the NCAA for all levels, including Football Championship Subdivision and Football Bowl Subdivision, is the record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 5,953 career rushing yards. He also ranks second in NCAA history in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 81, which ranks first in Division II history. Vander Laan is also the only player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards each in four consecutive seasons.
On top of that, Vander Laan has many more achievements from his illustrious college career. He is a three-time All-American, as well as a two-time GLIAC player of the year. He is the all-time record holder for career yardage in the GLIAC with over 14,000 total yards. He has 12 GLIAC Offensive Player of the Week awards.
Vander Laan also led Ferris to two consecutive undefeated regular seasons to finish off his college career. All of this adds up to Vander Laan being by far the greatest player under Annese.
Not only are these players the best under the Annese Era, but they are some of the greatest in all of Ferris football history. However, a lot of that falls onto Annese and his ability to transform these players into what you saw them become on the field.
Without these players, it’s possible Annese would have never reached the levels of success that he has since he began coaching at Ferris. However, it is also very likely that these players wouldn’t be where they are today without Annese. Therefore, it’s important to step back and take a look at Annese and these players, as they built the strong foundation that has led the Ferris football program to where it is today.
For coverage on the NCAA Division II National Semifinals and National Championship, click here.